In light of the recent historical rulings in the supreme court on gay rights issues, conversations about gay marriage have been taking place all across the blogosphere but most interestingly lots of these debates have been among orthodox Jews. I’ve chosen to remain relatively silent, despite some of the most outrageous comments I’ve seen written by self-proclaimed orthodox Jews against gay people through name calling, illogical arguments and irrational reasons to be heartless and bigoted. The bottom line is that progress is marching on, our rights are finally being acknowledged despite the opposition. Yet at the same time, I believe that this is a great opportunity to engage some of these people and at best hopefully give them a glimpse into the struggle of minorities like LGBT people and in that token, hopefully hold impact in order to create tangible change and make life better for the next generation of our brothers and sisters.
I give you this incredible story about a boy named Adam, who struggled with his identity, much like myself. This story is completely fictional but the characters in it represent the real life struggles that many LGBT Jewish people, specifically formerly orthodox people face on a daily basis.
He was Adam.
By Mimi Minsky
It is night outside, and a few of the Shabbat candles are still burning when Adam disappears through the exit door off the side of the kitchen. His parents and siblings are sleeping soundly upstairs and the dishes have nearly dried, resting on an old dish towel on the black marble countertop. While Adam first joined his family for the customary Friday night Shabbat dinner; donned in a starched white buttoned down shirt and his old black slacks, it is the second part of his night where the real Adam comes alive.
The music blares loudly, sending waves of vibrations through his body and he has to shout above the bass to catch the attention of the group of friends he has come to meet. He calls them friends, but only for the sole commonality they share; they all want to forget. It sounds and looks like a club, but really it is in an old Brooklyn apartment where Adam and his group gather together each Friday night after joining their own families for Shabbat dinner. One girl, Hanna, passes him a joint across the glass coffee table. At first Adam felt guilty coming to these parties, on Shabbat no less, but lately the feelings had seemed to dissipate, dissolving into a pungent cloud of smoke. Like Adam, after taking a couple of hits from his joint, that guilt is gone.
Adam and his friends are not alone. In fact, there are many groups similar to his own. Young teens and 20-somethings, part of ultra orthodox Jewish communities who maintain the appropriate garb while inside of their homes, and later, literally stripping themselves of their religion when in the outside world. Yet, their religion is all they know. Since birth they were taught the Halachot (Jewish laws) of the Torah: “Thou shalt not steal, do not use G-D's name in vain…Keep the Sabbath.” Nevertheless, over time, and by route of their own experiences, they have reached an undiscovered clearing. On their own, they began to form new opinions and ideas that were no longer merely black or white. Because the truth was, Adam and his friends no longer identified with the identity that has been chosen for them since birth. They now wanted to choose for themselves.
And so, Adam is on the edge. Standing firmly, he knows the ground beneath him is safe, if familiar somehow. He struggles with the fear of the unknown; of having to choose for himself. He stands by the edge, and looking down he hears the words over and over again in his mind. To jump or not to jump, that is the ultimate question Adam asks himself daily. One foot planted on solid ground and the other, a kind of suicide in his step. On this Friday night, he is one step closer to making that jump.
Here is Adam's Story:
Adam is not merely a boy wrestling with his orthodox roots and the life he’s trying to create for himself which defy his upbringing, and he isn’t just a boy who likes to smoke pot. With these secrets, Adam is harboring another secret. You see, Adam is gay. Adam wasn't always gay. At least that was what he had been told. The rabbis, they told him, "Adam, this is a phase." And then further, "G-d has no room in his world for homosexuals." So Adam had tried. He had really tried to get better. Better, because he felt sick all the time. At school, he wanted desperately to be at home, and when he was home, he wanted to be at school. There was no place for someone like him. His family didn't know him, his friends from school turned away when he glanced in their direction, and his own father; his childhood hero, no longer understood who he was. A son who no longer seemed like his son at all; Adam was a stranger in his own home. In fact, he had become a stranger to everyone around him; a quiet mystery. So quiet, he was fading into obscurity.
So Adam read. He wrote in his journal. But mostly, he stayed in his room. On weekends, his mother would urge him to spend time with friends. "Maybe go meet some of those friends of yours, Adam." She'd smile, all the while trying desperately to mask her anxiety, the worry surfacing from behind her nervous eyes.
In Yeshivah (religious school), Adam had learned about Baalei Teshuvot. They were special, he had been told growing up. These were people that had lost G-d somewhere along the way only to come back to Him, stronger and more subservient. Adam felt like that, like he had lost G-d. The only difference was that Adam wasn't hoping to find Him again.
After high school, he had fought to attend college. His father had petitioned, arguing with Adam that the classes were coed, "mixed", and therefore unsuitable for a religious boy like him. It was a school that focused on arts and Adam thought that maybe he would finally feel like himself again. He could write like he used to and perhaps, he would even write a book.
But then, there was Sam. He was the mirror Adam could no longer escape.
They took art history together and Sam hadn't tried to hide his interest in Adam. Electricity ran like a current between them when they first shook hands. Sam was everything. Adam became his everything.
Spring, right after Passover, Sam broke up with Adam. Adam’s secrecy and staunch refusal to tell his parents about who he really was, ultimately tore them apart. Sam had met someone while Adam had been away through the holiday. Perhaps, he thought, if Sam and he were broken up, he could pretend that it had all never really happened. Though he knew this wasn’t possible, he resented Sam for introducing him to his family. He had met Sam's family many times. They knew what Adam had meant to him. He had promised him and them that one day he too, would tell his own parents everything and that they would love Sam like he loved Sam. But he was too driven by fear and couldn’t tell them in time, and He never got the chance. He would never have that chance now.
Sam had parents who had loved him. Would there ever be hope for Adam?
Adam had questions without any answers. He wanted someone to tell him who to be, what to be and how to be it.
Who was he anyway, he often mused. He didn't really know. Sometimes he felt like he had imagined Sam. A character he had conjured up in his mind. But then he'd look at the mark on the outside of his palm, a scar he had gotten from a wine glass that had accidentally broken at dinner and he’d know the truth. "It's not a scar, Sam had corrected him; it's a memory."
Adam was gay. He was gay and he was tired of pretending to hate himself. He grew tired of the torrent of lies, spilling from his lips. But mostly, he was tired of living without being able to live at all.
His father had shoved him angrily against his bedroom door. His rabbis; they had told him.
“You are a Faygale (Yiddish for faggot)” he had spit, the words like venom seeping into Adam’s soul. “ You are not a real man. Music and Art is frivolity. I am a respected doctor. You are not welcome. You betrayed us. You are not my son. Get out.”
A few weeks had passed when his sister, Leora, found a carefully written note left on his bedside table.
Know that I was a man.
I was a man until I allowed myself defeat.
I was a man even when I had been told otherwise.
I was a gay man; but I was still a man.
I was a gay man; but I wasn't ashamed.
I was a gay man and I was your son.
You did not call me yours; yet I belonged to you.
I was your Adam.
Now it's your turn, dad.
Be a man.
In a tragic twist, Adam chose to take his young life. A life, he thought, that wasn’t worth living for any longer than he had already been suffering. The note had been his hello and his goodbye.
But, Adam was still there. Standing at the edge of his bridge. Would he turn back around? Would he jump?
Adam is your neighbor, your friend, and your brother. Adam is the one who could have been saved and can still can be saved, but part of that depends on how you treat the Adam in your lives.
So, to all of you readers, talk to your Adam. Tell him that it gets better. Tell him that somewhere there is hope, because sometimes, hope is all we have.
After all, it’s like Harvey Milk once said, “I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you...And you...And you...Gotta give em hope.”